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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Quality assurance in early childhood and school education


11.Quality assurance

11.1Quality assurance in early childhood and school education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Early childhood education (0-3)

Early childhood education for children aged between 0 and 3 years of age is not involved in any quality assurance procedure at national level, neither are the settings (nidi d’infanzia). ECEC settings undergo a monitoring and evaluation procedure aimed at the accreditation of the settings according to the regional regulations. Accreditation is decentralised at local level and, therefore, it is not possible to provide a detailed description. Some regions are also developing some self-evaluation procedures as part of the accreditation system.

Pre-primary, primary and secondary education

Early childhood education for children aged from 3 to 6 years (scuola dell’infanzia) is, at present, excluded from the national system of quality assurance. However, up to 2022/2023 pre-primary schools are involved in an experimental self-evaluation procedure specific for this level of education. After this trial phase, self-evaluation of pre-primary schools will gradually be implemented in the national evaluation system and will follow the scheme of the evaluation of primary and secondary schools described below.

The quality assurance process at primary and secondary level is implemented by the National evaluation system (Sistema nazionale di valutazione – SNV).

Responsible bodies

Within the National evaluation system, three bodies are responsible at national level for the quality assurance in the education and training system (DL 225/2010 and DPR 80/2013).

The National Institute for the Evaluation of the Education System (Istituto nazionale per la valutazione del sistema educativo di istruzione e di formazione, Invalsi) co-ordinates the system and prepares tests for the external evaluation of pupils’ learning outcomes in all types of school at all educational levels (DL 5/2012). It also takes part in international surveys and carries on national surveys on national standards. Invalsi is submitted to the supervision of the Ministry of education and merit that, every year, sets the objectives of the external evaluation of the school system and, every three years defines the strategic priorities that Invalsi should take into consideration in planning its activities.

The National institute of documentation, innovation and research in education (Istituto nazionale di documntazione, innovazione e ricerca educativa - Indire) supports the improvement and innovation process, the continuing professional development of school staff as well as documentation and research in education. Also Indire is submitted to the supervision of the Ministry.

The third subject responsible for the quality assurance of the education system is the inspection body that is made up of the managers with technical functions of the Ministry. Inspectors are autonomous and independent and are committed with the evaluation of schools and of school heads.

The national evaluation system foresees both internal and external evaluation procedures. The internal evaluation is the first step of the system. At school level, the School manager and the Internal evaluation team are responsible for the drawing up of the self-evaluation report.

The external evaluation is carried out by the External evaluation teams (Nuclei esterni di valutazione – NEV) that are made up by an inspector, who is a technical manager of the Ministry, and two experts selected by the Invalsi, one from and one external to the school.

Beside the national evaluation system procedures, the School manager organizes the school activities according to criteria of educational efficiency and efficacy and is responsible for the results of his/her activity. The Teachers' assembly plans and verifies the didactic activities.

At upper secondary level, it is also possible to attend regional vocational courses in order to fulfil compulsory education. Quality assurance in the regional vocational education and training system (Istruzione e formazione professionale - IFP) is carried out by the national Reference Point established in 2006 within the Enqa-Vet - European Quality Assurance in Vocational education and training framework. The Reference point is established at the National institute for the analysis of public policies (Istituto nazionale per l’analisi delle politiche pubbliche, Inapp). Inapp is a public research institute working in collaboration with the Ministries of labour and of education, the Regions, trade unions, European Union and other international subjects. The Reference Point has a Committee made up by the Ministries of labour and of education, the Regions, trade unions, and representatives of subjects offering vocational education and training.

Approaches and methods for quality assurance

The evaluation of schools

The National Evaluation System (Sistema nazionale di valutazione – SNV) has the following purposes:

  • to help schools in monitoring efficiency and efficacy indicators of their educational offers and undertaking improvement, in order to foster their autonomy;
  • to provide school administration with useful information to address education policies  towards the cultural, social and economic growth  of the country and to plan support actions for schools;
  • to foster transparency and social accountability;
  • to create the conditions to be able to evaluate school managers.

In the national evaluation system, internal and external evaluation are part of the same procedure that consists of four phases that take place over a period of three years, as foreseen by the current national legislation that established the National evaluation system (DPR 80/2013).

The four phases of the evaluation are the following:

a) internal self-evaluation of schools

b) external evaluation of schools

c) improvement actions of schools

d) dissemination of results and public accountability

In the first year, schools start the internal self-evaluation phase by developing analysis and internal evaluation on their own activities. Schools refer to an electronic file that collects data from  different databases of the Ministry, of Invalsi and of schools themselves. In this phase also the results of the national testing of students are taken into consideration. Then, the School manager and the Internal evaluation team of the school draft the self-evaluation report (Rapporto di autovalutazione – RAV) using the electronic format provided by the Ministry. The RAV is made up of four sections: the first one provides indicators on school population, the territory and the financial and human resources of the school. The second section reports students’ results. The third one details the teaching, educational and organisational practices, while the forth section is dedicated to the priorities of the schools in terms of goals and targets. All RAVs are published in a section of  the Ministry’s information system (scuola in chiaro). Finally, in this phase schools also draw up their improvement plan.

The second phase foresees the external evaluation of schools and starts in the second year of the evaluation procedure with a sample of schools receiving the visit of the external evaluation teams (Nuclei esterni di valutazione – NEV). Teams carry out their evaluation activity in three phases:

  • analysis of the documentation of the schools before visiting them;
  • visiting the school to collect data and information through interviews and documentation;
  • drawing of the evaluation report, which is then delivered to the school.

Following the evaluation report, schools can revise their improvement plan.

From the second year of the evaluation procedure, schools start carrying out the improvement actions in coherence with their RAV. Improvement actions are also included in the three-year educational offer plan of the school (Piano triennale dell’offerta formativa - PTOF). In this phase schools can have the support of the Indire or other public and private subjects (universities, research institutes, associations).

Finally, during the third and last year schools publish the results achieved in order to ensure transparency and social accountability.

The National evaluation system has been established in 2013. The first cycle of evaluation ended in 2019, while the second evaluation cycle will cover the three-year period 2019/2022 and so on.

The evaluation of students (National testing)

The National institute for the evaluation of the education system (Istituto nazionale per la valutazione del sistema di istruzione e di formazione - Invalsi) evaluates students' outcomes through national standardised tests. These take place at different stages and cover Italian, mathematics and, in some grades, English. The tests in English, at all grades concerned, aim at verifying the comprehension and use of the language in coherence with the Common European framework of reference for languages. National testing is currently regulated by D.Lgs. 62/2017.

At primary level, the external assessment involves pupils of the second (7-8 years of age) and fifth (10-11 years of age) classes. Tests are held within May. For the second classes, tests verify pupils’ learning levels in Italian and mathematics, while for the fifth classes they also concerns English.

At lower secondary level the national testing involve students of the third grade (13-14 years of age). Tests are held within the month of April and aim at verifying pupils' learning levels in Italian, mathematics and English. The participation in the national testing is one of the mandatory requirements for the admission to the final examination of the first cycle of education. Pupils unable to sit for the external assessment for serious and motivated reasons, take the tests in supplementary sessions (law 107/2015 and D.Lgs. 62/2017). Up to school year 2016/2017, the test was part of the final examination and the mark obtained was counted for calculating the student’s final mark.

In upper secondary education, national testing takes place in the second (15-16 years of age) and fifth (18-19 years of age) classes. Tests cover Italian, mathematics and English. According to the D.Lgs. n. 62/2017, the participation in the national testing in the fifth grade is one of the mandatory requirements for the admission to the final examination. Students unable to sit for the external assessment tests for serious and motivated reasons can take the tests in a supplementary session.

Results are delivered to schools both as aggregated and disaggregated data in order to provide school managers and teachers with a self-evaluation instrument and for improving their teaching.

Staff evaluation

The National evaluation system does not include the evaluation of teachers.

Exceptionally, inspectors, who are managers with technical functions of the Ministry, evaluate the teacher’s activity upon request of the school administration in the context of disciplinary measures or procedures for the exemption from service, due to incapacity or constantly insufficient performance.

Under certain circumstances and according to what established in the integrative contracts signed a school level, teachers can receive financial rewards in the frame of appraisal procedures addressed to both the teaching and the non-teaching staff.

The assessment of candidates to competitive examinations held for the recruitment of teachers is described in the relevant section of the chapter on Teachers and education staff.

The evaluation of the school system

Beside the National evaluation system, the Ministry holds several data on schools:

•    Number of students

•    Promotion of students

•    Progression of pupils within levels and from one level to the other

•    Budgets

•    CPD of school staff

The Invalsi holds data on the learning outcomes in Italian and mathematics at all territorial level (Regions, Provinces and Communes), it can offer information on critical aspects and point out where to intervene to improve the system.

Invalsi also submits questionnaires to students, teachers and families in order to investigate the satisfaction levels and other elements useful for the evaluation of the system.

In addition, the Ministry gives to Invalsi the task of drawing up a report on the Italian school system on a three-year period.